Going Deeper in Collaborative Team Meetings Idea #3 – Establish a Focus

This posting is part of a series, aimed at sharing high-impact ideas and practices for consideration in relation to Collaborative Team Meetings.

Establishing a focus is critical to the efficiency and effectiveness of the collaborative team meeting. Without focus, team conversations about students in these meetings can inadvertently wander down any path and it makes it very difficult to move the discussions to a much deeper level over time. In future blog postings, I’m going to explore this concept of going deeper in team meetings to truly turn the attention to advancing and challenging classroom practice but it is incredibly difficult to move to that vision with clarity without an established focus for the collaborative team meeting. It needs to be clearly communicated in advance of coming together, allowing team members the opportunity to forecast students they wish to discuss in relation to that focus and can also ensure that data related to that focus is available to flag students and inform the conversation.

When determining the focus, there are a number of considerations. Depending on the context of the school or the degree of depth of collaborative practices, each of the following ideas can have merit. The key is ensuring the focus is clearly communicated and connected to what we are trying to collectively impact in our school.

Alignment with school goals

In my last school, we had established a “core goal” for the primary school that focused on success in reading for our students. We believed that if students left grade three lacking confidence and skill as a reader, they were most likely destined for later and more significant challenges. As a result, every collaborative team meeting in every grade level focused on reading achievement. We felt to truly see success in our core goal, we needed to be identifying and responding to the students in danger of not achieving our goal and engage in discussion related to what were we going to do.

In Clearview Public Schools, the collection of Hutterite Colony schools (schools with a single teacher teaching all students) come together monthly in two separate teams (the east team and the west team) to collectively discuss their students. In alignment with their two school goals focused on literacy and student engagement, they alternate the focus for each meeting (click here to see a sample of their overall planning template for collaborative team meetings)

In Fort Vermilion School Division, the district has established system-wide goals related to student success in three areas – literacy, numeracy and connectivity/wellness. The expectation is that every school will be focusing on one or more of those goals in their collaborative team meetings, in alignment with their current school focus. Some schools have goals in connection to all three district priorities, some elect to narrow their focus to just one for the current year. In the WeCollab software, they have established focuses for those three areas that schools use in their team meetings to coordinate their conversations.

Alignment with key data measures

As key school-wide data measures become available, it can be valuable to align the collaborative team meeting focus to respond to the most recent data analysis that has occurred. This can ensure that the most recent data is helping to flag the students we should be discussing and the student data is informing the conversation.

At Daly Grove School in Edmonton, AB, combined grade level teams have weekly embedded time for collaboration. As key assessments are administered, the teams examine the data the week before the collaborative team meeting to discuss strengths, areas of concern, and students that the data indicates need to be addressed. The following week, the collaborative team meeting focuses on that data (i.e. if the data set is generated from the district’s Math Intervention and Programming Instrument – MIPI, the focus of the team meeting is numeracy).

At Our Lady of the Angels Catholic School in Fort Saskatchewan, AB, weekly grade level time is also cycled to look at key data sets for students and then coordinate the collaborative team meeting as a mechanism to provide a response for students. The following sample shows how weekly time for grade level teams was established for a particular month in the school year.

Alignment with the Team Goal, Inquiry Question or Priority

In schools where regular collaborative time is provided, it is important to give clear direction for how that collaborative time is structured, without micro-managing or dictating. I love the idea of setting the banks of the river and then stepping back to let the water flow. Schools can support their teams in establishing team goals, inquiry questions or priorities, to guide their collaborative work and focus their efforts in areas that they wish to deeply impact in their teaching and student learning. Allowing the team goal to help determine the collaborative team meeting focus is a powerful way to ensure that teams can achieve success for their students in relation to a priority they have established.

This sample comes from Oski Pasikoniwew Kamik School, part of the Bigstone Cree Nation in northern Alberta. Grade level teams establish a core goal (aligned with the school goals) that is data-informed and provides focus for their collaborative efforts. The team then assists in determining the focus for the collaborative team meeting (as shown in the example), based on the goal they are trying to impact.

Revisiting the collaborative team meeting agenda

This intentional attention paid to a focus for collaborative team meetings can ensure clarity and in time, open the door for deeper conversations (to be explored in subsequent blog postings). However, it may require a subtle adjustment to a standard collaborative team meeting agenda to still allow time for a “touch-base” for students requiring a conversation, but not explicitly in relation to the focus area. Similar to the Clearview Colonies example shared above, a parallel agenda for a 60 minute collaborative team meeting may look like this:

  • 5 minutes – Welcome and Norms review
  • 10 minutes – Celebrations directly connected to the area of focus – which students are making gains in the focus we are examining and what are we doing as teachers or as a team to bring about that success?
  • 30 minutes – Student examination related to the focus and resulting actions we will be taking, assigned to members of the team
  • 10 minutes – Opportunity to discuss any other students unrelated to the focus
  • 5 minutes – Closure

Ultimately, determining a focus and then remaining diligent in our identification of students and resulting actions that bring another level of clarity and solid direction to the collaborative team meeting, aligning with other essential components of the model. Do we have assessment data in relation to that focus area to guide our examination? Do we have a pyramid of interventions or continuum of supports that we could utilize in relation to that focus to elicit ideas and possible supports to consider for our students. Without a focus for the collaborative team meeting, it is difficult to find alignment between all the other components of the model.

I would love to see any other examples or artifacts from schools establishing focus areas for their collaborative team meetings. Email or share them with me at kurtis.hewson(at)jigsawlearning.ca.


Author: Kurtis Hewson